Mountain Pointe girls basketball

Mountain Pointe coach Donnis Henry is in his first season as head coach of the Pride after former coach Justin Hager was terminated by the district in September.

It’s written across each player’s black warmup shirt in bold gray lettering.

“The Hunt.”

It signifies the closeness of the team, and the ability for each player to stick together throughout every moment of every game.

The two-letter phrase has the same meaning off the court, where the Lady Pride faced arguably the most adversity in school history this offseason.

“We had our ups and downs, but we came together and realized that we are still a team,” Mountain Pointe junior guard Faith Diggs said. “We just wanted to get back on the court and act like nothing happened. We are still Mountain Pointe.”

It was revealed in September that former girls head basketball coach Justin Hager had shared game strategy for the boys basketball and football teams with opponents dating back to 2017. Hager served as an assistant under former Pride football coaches Norris Vaughan and Rich Wellbrock during that time.

His resignation was not accepted by the Tempe Union High School governing board. Instead, after the investigation concluded, Hager was terminated.

The news caused a ripple effect of anger throughout entire Mountain Pointe community. Both current and former players of the two teams affected were outraged and questioned whether or not losses during those seasons were a direct result, even though each school that allegedly received information did internal investigations and found no wrongdoing by coaches.

But the one aspect that was forgotten throughout the entire situation was the girls being left without a coach.

“It was like second nature, it was natural for me to take over,” said Donnis Henry, who took over as head coach this season. “I’ve been with this program for nine years. My daughter came through here. Me and the kids, we have a good relationship and that’s what it’s all about.”

Four seniors graduated from last year’s team that went 20-9 and made the 6A Conference tournament. Three others either transferred out of the program or are no longer playing.

“The kids have done a good job of staying focused to the task at hand,” Henry said. “They did a really good job putting the rubber band method into effect. They bounced back quickly. I think being able to get back to playing helped them with all of that. The gym is their sanctuary.”

Kishyah Anderson was one of the Pride’s leading scorers last season as a freshman, as she averaged 8.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. She’s been relied on even more this season with two of the Pride’s leading scorers from last year having graduated.

Mountain Pointe’s offense commonly runs through Anderson and Diggs, with the latter taking on the role of point guard and setting up the offense each time down the floor. Diggs admits taking on a larger role has been an adjustment overall, but it’s one that she’s also embraced.

“At first it was kind of uncomfortable but after a few games I realized I could do it,” Diggs said. “Sometimes it can be a lot of pressure, but I try to have fun with it.”

Having Henry take over head coaching duties helped the team adjust to everything that transpired, despite Henry having a different style of coaching than they were used to. But it was the familiarity he already had with most of the girls, and specifically the leaders of the team, that has been beneficial for the Pride so far this season.

Through 12 games, Mountain Pointe has an overall record of 8-4, which includes wins over 6A perennial power Xavier and Basha. The Pride also have wins over 4A power Mesquite and Faith Lutheran (Las Vegas, Nev.), both of which came during the Nike Tournament of Champions.

While they’ve been able to take down some of the teams that should find themselves in their respective conference tournaments at the end of the season, they’ve struggled against some of the in-state contenders. Mountain Pointe played Chaparral close back in December but lost convincingly to both Chandler and last year’s 6A champion, Hamilton.

Mountain Pointe has entered region play, which includes matchups with rival Desert Vista. The Pride are currently ranked No. 11 in the AIA rankings, which determines playoff seedings.

No matter where Mountain Pointe finishes the season in terms of ranking, Henry knows they will continue to play together as a team and fight through adversity, just as they did during the offseason.

“We remind them that they have 24 hours,” Henry said. “Just like winning and losing, you have 24 hours then we start anew. They’ve done a really good job handling everything.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.

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